Wednesday, August 02, 2006

2-Aug-06: The Unbridled Power of the Newsagencies

Demonstrating how alike their business is to that of other pornographers, Associated Press re-released this photo (online here) today to its news-wire customers, with a revised caption:
A civil defense worker carries the body of Lebanese child recovered from the rubble of a demolished building that was struck by an Israeli airstrike at the village of Qana near the southern Lebanon city of Tyre, Sunday, July 30, 2006. The Associated Press and two other news agencies on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006, rejected challenges to the veracity of photographs of bodies taken in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Lebanon, strongly denying that the images were staged. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
AP - Aug 01 1:30 PM
Nasser Nasser will undoubtedly be pleased by the vote of confidence. But the rest of us are left wondering how Associated Press, when presented with the opportunity to express just the smallest amount of doubt about whether their Lebanese photographer was used by Hezbollah, made such a decisive, poor choice.

Yesterday ("Using Dead Lebanese Children for Ammunition") we published some observations and questions about the pictures from Qana. The questions are many, and some of them are sharp. They're bouncing around the Internet. (See EUReferendum as a fine example.) Answers have been slow in coming. They relate to the grotesquery of dead babies being positioned in dramatic poses, in different locations around Qana, by the same handful of men adopting different facial emotions on demand. That the children are dead is true and unbearably painful. But that we know who killed them, when, where and how - that's an entirely different matter.

Did we say answers have been slow in coming? There have been no answers. Associated Press has stonewalled. The Guardian has rallied to the flag ("Attack on photographers in Lebanon is disgraceful"), and others from the journalism-by-wishful-thinking school won't be far behind. AP itself put out the following comprehensive rebuttal of the critics today:
"The AP said information from its photo editors showed the events were not staged, and the time stamps could be misleading for several reasons, including that they can show when pictures are posted, not taken.
That's it.

They're global press agencies and we're just a couple of bereaved parents, victims of terror. They have a staff of hundreds, stringers by the thousand, and budgets in the millions. We have the Internet.

But even so, how do Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Press know, 36 hours after publishing these shocking images and sitting in their air-conditioned offices thousands of kilometers away from the scene, that they have not been manipulated, duped, by Hezbollah? Does Nasser Nasser know? Does Adnan Hajj of Reuters? Does Nicolas Asfouri of AFP? Does Zohra Bensemra of Reuters? Where does their self-confidence come from? Why do they have such an awfully difficult time figuring out whether an act is terror or something else (while most folks have no doubt) but here, where serious questions are being posed, they are instantly confident in the very heat of the moment that these things are just what AP, AFP and Reuters say they are.

We've seen that confidence before. Last year, AP published this when the same individual kept popping into the viewfinder of their cameras:
There's no question that [Hezbollah] were genuinely grieving over the loss of their homes, their livelihood and their dreams. But they were also keenly aware that their struggle was being broadcast across the world ...
Except that this quote above is doctored by us. AP was not referring to Hezbollah here. The word in brackets in the original article was "settlers" and that story was about Israelis. Check out the background in this CAMERA analysis. AP demonstrated it has an acute sense of when it's being used except when it's being used by what it, and much of the world as well, sees as being the weaker side in an asymmetrical conflict. What a terrible way to conduct a news business.

Until yesterday's newsagency-driven orgy of images, most of us reasonable people were appalled at the loss of innocent lives at Qana. As we said above, these are dead children. No soft words can change that. Now some of us - maybe many of us - are wondering whether we are being spun. Not that we doubted for a moment the cold-blooded callousness of Hezbollah. Their manipulation of Lebanon in general, and of children in particular, is a matter of record. But this isn't about Hezbollah. It's about their willing dupes in the media.

Anyone who sees this collection of pictures (we're posting it now - details to come), and especially the babies being posed while dangling in the air, comes away fairly sure something's very amiss here.

Except for the people making money - and maybe doing things that are much worse - from selling them.


Rob said...

Good contribution once again. Please keep your insights coming.

Anonymous said...

I worry how this will go down in History. Today, some guy on the ABC who NEVER showed any interest in Israel has "found" that many opinion makers in Israel were already warning about the threat from Hizbollah for the last year or so. As he puts it "Israel had been preparing for this onslaught for at least six months, and the kidnapping of its two soldiers was just the trigger".

So I see the history books: "... In 2006 Israel planned an attack on Lebanon and waited quietly for a trigger ..."

raelene said...

Over at LGF, this was posted today.

An LGF reader has forwarded the following email (I suppose you could say our reader “leaked” it), sent to all Associated Press employees, congratulating themselves on the propaganda photos from Qana and awarding the photographers cash prizes:

Dear Staffers:

Last Sunday proved to be one of the most dramatic days in the war between Israel and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. AP’s extensive photo team produced a stunning series of images that day that beat the competition and scored huge play worldwide.

Rumors surfaced early Sunday morning that an Israeli airstrike had flattened a house in the southern Lebanese village of Qana. The number of deaths wasn’t immediately known, but the seriousness of the incident was clear. Beirut-based photographer Hussein Malla immediately called AP photographers Nasser Nasser, Lefteris Pitarakis and stringer Mohammed Zaatari and advised them to rush to the scene. Nasser arrived as the bodies of many civilians — including numerous children — were being pulled from the rubble. Lefteris later took over, enabling Nasser to get his pictures swiftly onto the wire. Kevin Frayer was dispatched from Beirut to boost AP’s presence. Throughout the morning, AP’s team filed a steady stream of powerful images.

Meanwhile, in Beirut, a small Hezbollah demonstration exploded into violence at word of the Qana attack. Hezbollah supporters stormed the nearby United Nations building, scaling walls and smashing their way past bulletproof glass barriers to enter the building itself. Photographers Hussein Malla, Kevork Djansezian and Ben Curtis were all there to capture the rioting. Beirut-based photo editor Dalia Khamissy coordinated with photographers in the field and handled a steady stream of stringer photos. All day long, AP photographers relayed what they were seeing to AP reporters for print stories.

Nasser’s most haunting image showed a man emerging from the rubble carrying the lifeless and dust-covered body of a child. Calm, morning light shone down on man and child, highlighting them against an almost monochrome background of pure rubble. ... Nasser’s image ran on the front pages of at least 33 newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Post. It also won a double-page center spread in The Guardian of London. Lefteris’s image of a resident weeping next to a row of bodies made the front of The Washington Post, among many others. Hussein, Kevork and Ben’s images of the storming of the UN building easily beat those of the competition.

For a day of outstanding a memorable photos, taken in conditions of substantial danger, the Lebanon photo team of Nasser Nasser, Lefteris Pitarakis, Kevin Frayer, Mohammed Zaatari, Ben Curtis, Hussein Malla, Kevork Djansezian and Dalia Khamissy shares this week’s $500 Beat of the Week award.

Check out the source at

Whispering_Jack said...

Speaking of willing dupes in the media, I thought you might be interested to hear how the Melbourne Age’s Ed O’Loughlin reported on the Qana tragedy.

He set the scene by identifying the time of the attack as 1.30am. Later he quoted a local man, as saying that …"The Israelis have planes and they see everything on the ground. They must have seen kids playing in front of this building. They know what is going on and they don't care."

Excuse me!

There were children playing in front in front of the building at 1.30am?

Is this what O’Loughlin would have his readers believe?

And what of the contradictory reports from other Lebanese sources which alleged that the Israelis struck while the children were asleep?

And what of the Israeli reports that the building collapsed 7 hours after the Israeli attack (putting the collapse at 8.30am when you would be more likely to see kids playing in front of the building but long after the IAF had gone)?

Does O’Loughlin investigate this not inconsequential matter or the possibility that the collapse of the building and the subsequent deaths might have been caused or contributed to by exploding Hezbollah munitions inside the building?

Does he report on the many inconsistencies raised across the world in the ensuing days including the fact that the initial casualty numbers appear to have been exaggerated?

Will he report on the result of the IDF inquiry on the bombing of a building which charges that Hezbollah guerrillas used civilians as shields for their rocket attacks?

O'Loughlin's Fairfax bio used to describe him as "lazy". I hope the real reason for those omissions is a not a much darker one than that!

The-View-From-Ramot said...

I doubt the views of Ed O'Loughlin of The Age are worse or even different from those of most of his drinking companions, the foreign reporters who gather in the same hotel bars and feed opinions to one another. Those I do know tend to be what you would expect former-liberal-activists in their college years to have become. Not terribly interested in anything said to them by the Israelis, and viscerally, unstoppably sympathetic to the Arabs as the weaker side in a US-driven conflict. None of this is surprising, or specific to this region. It's pretty much the same everywhere you have events and reporters.
I do however think (this is Arnold writing this time) that this Hezbollah War is different from past eruptions here, in the sense that there are many people of the left who understand the hand of Iran and of Syria in this, who see through some of the media orthodoxy, and are asking themselves probing questions. Frimet and I have gotten a considerable amount of mail of that kind, leading me to think this is not exactly like the past (not even Jenin).
But it would be a mistake to under-estimate the take-no-prisoners determination of the Iranians and the Shi'ites, as well as the Hezbollah, in pushing public opnion towards their view, especially in Asia and Africa. It's happening as well in Europe and the US but there it's more pernicious because it can only be done with the active help of the backroom people at places like the BBC and the Independent (UK).

Anonymous said...

Since when do you belive anything reuters say?

dident you hear that they are faking everything about their stories and pictures?

take a look at this!